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Monday, August 2, 2010

Stars who 'ditched the epidural'

A few months ago I posted a link to a study that suggested poorer, less educated women refuse the epidural.  When you see a list of celebrities who are opting out and choosing natural birth, it makes you wonder how accurate that study really is.

Granted, I know they're not in the majority. But it's refreshing to see celebs choose a more user-friendly approach to birth. And young women, too - I think that's awesome. They are sending a message that yes!, this is possible and no, you don't have to grow your armpit hair long and braid it or eat Grape Nuts cereal every day in order to want a natural birth.

Among the list are:

Gisele Bundchen - At the top of the list is supermodel-turned-birth-activist Gisele Bundchen. Everybody's heard about her bathtub home birth, and while some are riled about it, who gives a crap. She should be at the top of the list - but I'm not sure many people understand why. Given the fact that in her home country of Brazil the c-section rate is around 36 percent, and she chose an unmedicated home birth, I think this is of the utmost importance. We can only hope that her fellow countrywomen are looking on from afar, thinking, "Hey, maybe a vaginal birth isn't such a bad idea." I'd love to hear what Brazilians think of her as a result. And the reaction elsewhere? The Daily Mail says, "Gisele claims son Benjamin's birth didn't hurt." Claims? What, do you think she's lying?

Nicole Richie - The actress refused "even an aspirin" in labor with her daughter, which the author describes as "hardcore." Considering Nicole is a recovering drug addict, I can see her reluctance to have pain meds. What makes that "hardcore"? I think it's smart. This is probably one gray area that is often ignored - the addict who is managing pain of labor. I remember reading (maybe on The Unnecessarean?) about an addicted mother who refused pain meds, and the nurse made sure to come in early and often to badger the patient into getting an epi. I can't think of a more humiliating experience - having your addiction thrown in your face, especially when you're trying so hard to overcome it. 

Jessica Alba - This young, first-time mom had a very 'zen birth' with daughter Honor and apparently 'didn't make a sound.' The author's comment: "Ok, somebody's lying." Huh?

I found that vocalizing during labor helped, but it's different for everyone. Many women make noises, many are quiet - it's not all the way you see childbirth portrayed on soap operas. I've heard women claim that screaming is a 'sign of weakness,' which I think is complete garbage: we know that for some, vocalizing can help them manage pain and works as a release, of sorts. I tell people, "I screamed in labor not because of the pain, but because it was freaking hard work!"

Joely Fisher - Carrie Fisher's younger half-sister gave birth to daughter True Harlow Fisher-Duddy at home, in the company of doulas, midwives, and a doctor, according to mom. The author's comment: when we can't think of a jab to make about her opting out of pain meds, let's say something creative, like "Maybe each person got to pick one of the baby's million names?" What?

Interestingly, the article's author mentions a friend who'd recently had a baby and felt that she was manipulated into having a c-section for fetal distress. Of course, when the baby was born, it was perfectly fine. The author even mentions Ricki Lake's movie "The Business of Being Born." And yet, the overall tone of the piece is that women who choose to opt out of the epi are somehow crazy, liars or "hard core," which attaches sort of a freak label to the whole thing. For some who might be curious about a natural birth, this association alone might be enough to completely scare them away from the idea, and 'poor and less-educated' seems to have little to do with it: "Women who give birth without drugs are out to prove something, and are completely nuts." 


Anonymous said...

ugh! i am not out to prove ANYTHING. to anyone else or to myself.
why do i prefer to birth without drugs?
for the better part of my labor I enjoy the feeling of work, enjoy that oneness I feel with my baby.
towards the end I usually regret my decision for about 5-15 minutes and will 'express' that regret:D
i am totally in love with the post birth high that *I* do not get if I have an epidural. there is nothing like going from the out-of-body-experience of those last minutes of birth to being completely pain-free and so *present* the moment that shoulder comes free.
The only people who know if I did or didn't have drugs were the people present at the birth (and a few in surrounding rooms and down the hall :D-I tend to be a bit loud-not screaming-more like growling)and those who ASK. It is no badge of honor, I did it for ME and my baby, no one else and could totally care less of anyone's opinion of my birth. I am not a hero or a martyr, just a mother.
for the record: I have had a C-sectionn with epi, two VBAC's with epi, one VBAC with a little Stadol and 5 unmedicated-except for some pit here and there and one with mag and pit which ironically was not one of the epiduralized births.

The Deranged Housewife said...

I think because my mother did not pump my brain full of misperceptions about birth pain from the get go, I went into my first pregnancy thinking I would like to see how far I could get before I decided on medication. of course, that went haywire when I knew I had to have a c-section for breech presentation, but during my second labor I didnt have an epidural. I stayed at home as long as I felt comfortable and then got Nubain, which was completely pointless - I felt everything.

Mostly I didn't want an epi in case of abnormal pain that might signify a uterine rupture. But I totally get what you're saying - the feeling of being "present" and an active participant in the birth, instead of just an object that is about to expel a baby. If I have another baby, I hope to have a completely unmedicated VBAC, but we'll see. With my third I made it the entire way through without anything until it was time to do the section (another breech). It wasn't that bad, even when I was unfortunately confined to bed as they determined the baby's surgery and then wheeled me into the OR.

I wish we could ditch the negative persona of women who choose to labor without drugs. When will it ever cease to be a 'quaint notion' and become just something you 'do'?

Meagan said...

Interesting post. I'll have to share it on Twitter (@unexpectant). While it is encouraging to see that others beyond the granola types are opting for natural births, it's sad that they are still ridiculed by some for that choice. But, I suppose it takes baby steps and hopefully if a few more celebs make the same choice, then it will be more commonplace.

In the meantime, I celebrate my two natural births. They weren't easy, but they were more rewarding than I can ever express.

Heather Griffith Brewer said...

Nice. It's so awesome that it's acceptable to ridicule women who choose natural birth, breastfeeding, home schooling, on and on...but you just don't hear the reverse. How far would you get if you started harassing someone for their c-section, epidural, or their bottle feeding? While birth is painful, why do people assume it should be otherwise? And why is that "pain" so bad? Everyone seems to ignore the reason that you need to be an active part of labor and birth, and how that participation benefits both mom and baby.
I do not get it at all. I had something to prove with my home birth, I wanted to prove to myself as much as anyone, that my body is capable and birth is not something to be micromanaged. I want to be a good example for my daughter, and I want her to grow up with a healthy attitude about pregnancy and birth. If anyone else benefits, all the better.
Honestly I don't see how people can claim we're trying to be martyrs if we don't sit there and go on and on about the pain.
Hey, I blogged (DoulaHead) about birth and referenced one of your last posts.

Kelly said...

There are a couple more celebs you missed that had homebirths Nellie Furtado, Pamela Anderson, Demi Moore, Charlotte Church, Cindy Crawford, and Meryl Streep. Bryce Howard (twilight star) had a planned homebirth but transferred and had a natural birth at the hospital and left 45 minutes after the birth

The Deranged Housewife said...

I did mention them in the previous post on celebrity home birth. :) I also wonder why almost none of them are proponents of it and a little more outspoken about their choices and the fact that it IS possible to birth at home, naturally. And with homebirthers, it's pretty much agiven that they didn't have an epi.

Meagan, to some, just by saying that your natural births were "rewarding" makes you "granola" to them. I think it's because they often see birth as a painful chore rather than an emotional, spiritual experience. It certainly takes away from or tries to lessen that experience when you go through the typical hospital birth scenario, especially the way it plays out in today's births.

Heather - your post reminded me of how some people just think we shouldn't feel any pain, any loss, any sense of grief when it comes to certain things. And it's possible to grieve something other than death. It's like we need to be on auto-pilot for birth - "wake me when it's over!" because they don't want to experience any pain, strife, or hard work.